The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

ACT Report Recommends ACTion to Increase College Completion

A 2007 study released by ACT, the largest college admissions testing company, specified substantial mismatches between high school course content and what college teachers want students to know. The study “Aligning Postsecondary Expectations” underlines how college completion and college success can be undermined by unaligned content and skills within seemingly college preparation courses.

I offer the following recap of quotes and insights from the report.

First, the national survey of 35,665 educators tells us what postsecondary institutions believe is important and necessary for their entering students to know and what middle and high school teachers are teaching. It focuses, therefore, on identifying the gap between postsecondary expectations and high school practice.

For example, high school teachers in all content areas (English/writing, reading, mathematics and science) tend to rate content and skills as “important” or “very important” moreso than did their postsecondary or remedial counterparts. It may be that the extensive demands of state standards are forcing high school teachers to treat all content topics as important, sacrificing depth for breadth.

Postsecondary instructors ranked mechanics more frequently among the most important groups of skills for success in an entry level, credit-bearing postsecondary English/writing course, while high school teachers’ rankings of these strands were generally lower.

High school mathematics teachers gave more advanced topics greater importance than did their postsecondary counterparts. In contrast, postsecondary and remedial-course mathematics instructors rated a rigorous understanding of fundamental underlying mathematics skills and processes as being more important than exposure to more advanced mathematics topics.

High school science teachers consistently rated science content as more important to student success than science process/inquiry skills. These responses are in direct contrast to those of middle school and postsecondary science teachers, who consistently rated science process skills higher in importance than science content.

The survey responses of postsecondary English/writing instructors suggest that high school language arts teachers should focus more on punctuation and grammar skills to better prepare their students for college-level expectations in college composition courses.

(Aligning Postsecondary Expectations and High School Practice: The Gap Defined - - Policy Implications of the ACT National Curriculum Survey® Results 2005–2006, Iowa City: ACT, 2007).

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